Aspirus surgical assistant earns U.S. citizenship
WAUSAU, Wis. — Within minutes of landing at Central Wisconsin Airport on a cold January day in 2014, Michael Perez-Rodriguez arrived at his hotel in preparation for a job interview for a position as a cardiothoracic surgical assistant at Aspirus Wausau Hospital. The native of Cuba had never stepped on ice, and promptly slipped and fell while getting out of the car. Since that time the 36-year-old has been on solid footing in Wausau, beginning his career with Aspirus, and in January, becoming a United States citizen.
“I feel really grateful for this country,” said Perez-Rodriguez. “It’s a privilege for me to be a U.S. citizen and to be part of this country.”
A former heart surgeon in Cuba, Perez-Rodriguez spoke very little English when he came to the United States four years ago after marrying his wife Susana, a U.S. citizen. Since then, he’s worked tirelessly to learn the language and continues to navigate through the process of re-certifying his Cuban Doctor of Medicine Diploma and earning his medical degree in the U.S.
“I already passed my first step – the United States Medical License examination and I’m currently studying for the second one,” he said. “Hopefully I’m going to take it in May and then the Clinical Skills Examination, and then at the end I can opt for another residency program in the United States and become a doctor in the future…again.”
[h5]Connection to Aspirus Wausau Hospital[/h5]
The former president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, personally handed Perez-Rodriguez his Doctor of Medicine Diploma as the top medical student in his province. He worked in Havana as a heart surgeon from 2005-13, and was also a family practice physician in Guantánamo and Haiti early in his career, but he had a passion to continue practicing medicine in America. Perez-Rodriguez didn’t have a connection to follow his dream, however, a former professor and fellow heart surgeon from Havana did.
When Perez-Rodriguez told his mentor that he was planning on moving to the U.S., the friend urged him to get in touch with fellow Cuban Fernando Riveron, MD, a successful surgeon at Aspirus Heart & Lung Surgery. That connection led to Perez-Rodriguez’s interview with Aspirus and an opportunity to work in health care in the U.S.
“Dr. Riveron is just one of those people I’m going to be grateful for the rest of my life,” he said.
Dr. Riveron, who came to America from Cuba with his parents at the age of five, says the sky is the limit for his colleague from Cuba.
“I get these flashbacks of knowing the incredible pride of accomplishment for an immigrant to show up to this country and to successfully go through the rigorous process of learning English and establishing yourself like this,” Dr. Riveron said. “The great thing about America is for people who merit advancement, there’s an open playing field in front of them. He and Susana are going to benefit from the wonderful benefits of being an American citizen.”
Perez-Rodriguez celebrated his three-year anniversary working in the Aspirus cardiovascular surgery operating room in March.